I used to make New Year's resolutions. In fact, I used to make the same resolutions every year, having obviously failed to put closure to them the previous year. Eventually, I passed age 50 and stopped making them. I convinced myself that I could become a better person without putting anything in writing.
But now I have a new idea: What if I wrote New Year's resolutions for people other than myself, perhaps Americans United members? (I also briefly considered writing them for other groups, like television evangelists or Bush judicial nominees, but I feared a higher percentage would send them back with scrawled messages like, "Mind your own business.") So, at risk of receiving some scrawled returned messages anyway, here are my resolutions for what AU members can do in 2004.
First, resolve to get one person you know to join AU. It is just wonderful to see what we do with our current membership and resources. Imagine doubling it. When one of those Religious Right-encrusted members of Congress comes up to me in the Capitol Building and says, "Barry, what trouble are you up to here today?," I would love to give the response, "Twice the trouble I was doing last year."
Second, keep watch over the potentially illegal use of houses of worship in electoral campaigns in this election year. No political party should be turning churches, mosques or any religious institution into an extension of its partisan interests. Praise any community groups, including religious ones, that have candidate forums (where every candidate is truly invited), but send us the names of those that use church resources, including pulpit endorsements, for their favorite politician. Also, consider searching for rabidly partisan "voter guides" from groups like the Christian Coalition in local pews as Election Day draws nearer.
Third, resolve to make at least one call this year to some local or syndicated radio show host who is ranting about why church-state separation is a myth or why Jefferson would have loved the "faith-based initiative" or any other piece of Religious Right flummery that you might encounter. At worst, you merely annoy the host and he or she hangs up; at best, your sound articulation of fact will gain a separationist convert in that listening audience. Or do the same with a letter to the editor.
Fourth, try to uncover whether good social service organizations and charities operating in your area may have lost federal grants to new "faith-based" providers. We are starting to hear reports of groups that have been doing good work for years facing dramatic cuts because money is being diverted to groups that have more clergy on their boards of directors or who otherwise sound like poster children for the faith-based initiative. Ironically, some of these appear to have been created overnight to join what they hope will be a faith-based funding boondoggle.
Fifth, resolve to take time to read a new book on church-state separation or history. Three you might want to consider are The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America by Frank Lambert, the second edition of Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church & State by AU's own Rob Boston and The Fundamentals of Extremism The Christian Right in America, a book edited by Kimberly Blaker.
Sixth, if you are physically able, try to make it to an Americans United event. We now have 50 chapters nationwide, and many of us speak to public forums around the United States. I'm doing four different events in Florida alone in the next few months. All of us on the staff love to meet our members and supporters. Sometimes you even tell us jokes or stories we can incorporate into our speeches. Remember, you don't have to be a law professor for us to steal your good ideas and use them as our own!
Seventh, resolve to ask your local library to begin carrying Church & State on its shelves. Many of our members have even been willing to buy gift subscriptions for libraries. Please be aware, though, that each library has its own acquisition policies. These policies might preclude even the most kindly offer to donate what we think is the greatest magazine in the country. These thoughtful policies must be respected.
Eighth, see if any professional associations of which you are a member are looking for convention or conference speakers for plenary sessions, debates or major workshops. Aside from purely church and state organizations, much of what we have to say is important to religious communities, humanist groups, pro-choice advocates, librarians, public educators and college audiences. If the fit is right, we try to provide speakers at low or no cost.
Ninth, and finally, in the year 2004 visit AU online and use www.au.org to get active. Send a letter to your member of Congress. Find out if there is an AU chapter in your area. Read up on current church-state issues. (Afterwards, pop over to www.cultureshocks.com and check out my new daily radio program.)
I know that a lot of people have 10 items in lists, but I'll forgo that model this time. I'd like to be able to report next year on "The Top Ten Achievements Due To Growth of Americans United."
Thanks so much for the support you've given me in the 11 years I've been your executive director.
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.